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New conditions of funding will hit students and colleges – and government has failed to see that - Cath Sezen

22nd February 2024

By Cath Sezen, director of education policy at AoC

2024 marks the 10th anniversary of the condition of funding (CoF) which requires all 16 to 18-year-olds who are yet to achieve grade 4 or above passes in GCSE English and maths to continue studying those subjects. Government has opted to recognise this milestone, not with a fair and balanced review of the impact of the CoF, but with additional conditions attached to the English and maths funding first announced by the Prime Minister last October.

English and maths are vital skills for individuals and the country. Over the past ten years, colleges have supported the government’s ambition of ensuring more young people achieve a Level 2 in these important subjects with little support and no additional funding despite additional staffing costs.

Over 80%[1] of those students needing to resit English and maths study in colleges as the majority of schools require students to have grade 4s or above to continue into sixth form. Enrolments in Level 2 and below English and maths account for 33%[2] of 16 to 18 enrolments at General Further Education and Land based colleges. Colleges should be proud that their hard work has ensured an additional 36.7% of young people who hadn’t achieved at 16 were achieving these important skills by 19 in 2021/22[3], even if it does beg the question about the other 63%.

The college sector widely welcomed the Prime Minister’s party conference announcement on a down payment for the Advanced British Standard as it appeared to indicate that after many years supporting the English and maths agenda, the hard work of colleges was finally being recognised and funded. However, in an unprecedented move, the new condition of funding announced this week stipulates the number of hours colleges will be required to deliver: 3 hours of English and 4 hours of maths. This is simply not deliverable.

Late notification

The October announcement made no reference to additional conditions. Colleges are already well into planning for 2024 delivery. This sort of delivery change and the accompanying update reducing the tolerance rate should be evidenced and planned well in advance as is advocated in the long-term plan for the Advanced British Standard itself.

Evidence and trust

There is no clear indication why delivery hours have been set at 3 for English and 4 for maths, nor why they need to be “stand-alone, whole-class, in-person” (online and small group teaching can be delivered in addition to these hours). No other elements of a study programme are set and monitored in the same way. This appears to indicate a lack of trust in college delivery of English and maths, despite evidence to the contrary of college compliance over the past 10 years.

Impact

The most important consideration in any policy change is impact on students. English and maths skills are crucial for life and work, but more hours studying for the same GCSE qualifications studied at school is not motivating. Whereas many students currently study 4 hours a week, from September this will almost double to 7, that is almost half of their post-16 study programme. To keep within the 580-hour study programme, this will mean a reduction in the amount of time available for the vocational subject, the part of the week that attracts students to staying in education.

We mustn’t forget that around 40% of 16-year-olds do not achieve English and or maths at grade 4 or above at the end of year 11. However, the exact numbers change year on year. The mitigations put in place during the pandemic meant that more students achieved at 16 and when resitting, but the return to 2019 standards in 2023 means that colleges have been overwhelmed by English and maths resit classes. For colleges which meet the wide needs of those young people within their local communities and recruit larger numbers of students without grade 4 and above, the impact is huge. This is not the case for Level 3 students who have achieved English and maths and unfairly penalises colleges that recruit and support the success of students who need English and maths the most.

A significant proportion of the additional funding will be spent chasing attendance. The current 5% tolerance on the study programme funding allows colleges some flexibility to ensure that students with high levels of anxiety or special educational needs without an Education, Health and Care Plan can stay in college, benefitting from the wider skills which are the main purpose of college.

Around 200,000 students are resitting maths and or English across English colleges. We estimate this new condition will require an additional 800 maths and 400 English staff across the sector with no clear government plan of how this is to be achieved in 2024 or 2025 and beyond. While an additional hour or two hours a week may not seem a lot, at the scale at which colleges deliver English and maths, it will have a significant impact.

Government workforce data[4] indicates that at the end of the 2021/22 academic year, there were 95 unfilled maths and 72 unfilled English teaching vacancies. The huge increase in resit students after the return to 2019 standards has exacerbated this. Currently, our Jobs board has around 500 vacancies in each of these two subjects.

The unexpected change announced this week comes as colleges are also preparing for a major qualification reform programme starting summer 2024. Capacity for change and patience with a government that does not appear to take into consideration the grave concerns of the sector regarding the impact of reform are wearing thin.

We are asking that:

  • there is a full and comprehensive review of the current English and maths policy
  • the additional funding is allocated and monitored through usual quality accountability processes with no further conditions.
  • a working group is established with urgency to address how best to encourage more staff into the teaching English and maths in the college sector to support both current college delivery and establish how best to ensure the required workforce for the ABS in 2033.

[1] A level and other 16 to 18 results, Academic year 2022/23 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

[2] ILR/Mides data

[3] Level 2 and 3 attainment age 16 to 25, Academic year 2021/22 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

[4] Create your own tables, Table Tool – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.